12 July 2007

The good, the bad, and the goutweed

Those of us who live by the ocean have to deal with fog by times. Now, I happen to like fog a lot of the time. It's soothing, it cools the air, it gently waters the yard, which is nice when rainfall is low. Those who haven't experienced fog often have no idea how thick it can get. Let me demonstrate. Here is the lower front garden on a soon to be stormy but not foggy day:

And here tis this afternoon. As we say in Newfoundland, 'she's right some jeezly t'ick, me byes!' (Hey, I was born on the Rock, so I talks quare by times. :-)

The brown patch in the lawn is where I nuked a sneaky little bout of goutweed with horticultural vinegar two days ago. And speaking of goutweed...I have a new goal in mind: to get nurseries in my province to stop selling goutweed (Aegopodium podegraria). It’s more ubiquitous and unpleasant than Harper conservatives. In fact, it’s best compared to being like a nasty computer virus—it spreads and spreads and spreads until it’s everywhere. And it’s harder to control than a computer virus, too. Right now it’s in bloom in the Annapolis Valley, so it’s very noticeable. Clouds of lovely, Queen-Anne’s-Lace-like flowers hovering a foot or so above the foliage, whether it’s the green or variegated variety. Unfortunately those flowers will go to seed and spread further.

Then of course there’s its other mode of spreading, by underground stems, or rhizomes. That’s where the plant really gets its foothold. Because you can mow it off, spray the tops with an organic or chemical herbicide, and that just causes it to put up new shoots.

Amazingly, this plant does have its fans. And perhaps it does have a place if you want to cover an area with it. You often see it around the foundations of houses (especially older ones), or around a concrete wellcap, or in other places where someone wanted to simply fill in an area with plant material. It is sold as a ground cover, after all. It will cover that area, all right—and leak into your perennial beds, your veggie plot, your pasture, your lawn if given half a chance.

The variegated type is less obnoxious and invasive than the all-green sort. Most variegated plants are less vigourous than their all-green relatives, because less chlorophyll is produced (in the green area) to nourish the plant. What happens, though is that the variegated will revert to being all green; then it takes off like a midsummer wildfire.
We are cursed with the all-green variety. In one area, I’ve had a bit of a laissez-faire attitude to it, because it’s under some trees and down in the ditch, and I simply try to control it on the other side where it wants to jump into the lawn. However, we also have it in another couple of parts of the yard—and in one place, it headed into the horse’s paddock.

I’ve declared war, now. I read in Mark Cullen’s latest book, A Sandbox of a Different Kind, that he considers himself a ‘small-O organic gardener’, because he is primarily organic but has resorted to glyphosate in a few situations. That was good enough for me. I tried the salt-vinegar approach first (mix 1 cup of salt into one gallon of vinegar along with a tsp of baby shampoo or dish detergent (to help it stick to the plants—spray or pour on weeds, but have a care NOT to spill on your good plants because they’ll be killed too.) That dampened its vigour slightly. I hit it with glyphosate. Then I got smart and got my Long Suffering Spouse to bushhog the whole area, mowing it right to the ground. Another course of glyphosate a week or so back got it looking very depressed. But it's currently my 'right some ugly' part of the yard.
Well, one of them--there are several but the fog gave way to rain so I decided to just entertain you with the goutweed.

Then two days ago, I tried the horticultural vinegar (20 percent acetic acid rather than 5)…and I THINK we’ve got the goutweed on the run in that area. Except that in desperation it's put up a whole bunch of new shoots, which I'm going to cut off at the soil level.

Stay tuned for further developments.

Now, to counteract the goutweed and the right some ugly part of the yard--the roses are doing spectacularly at present, and as of this morning there had been no balling in any of the light coloured ones. Here's Polareis, with Hansa behind it, and a bit of Thomas Lipton peeking out of the red-osier dogwood (six feet in the air).

In the ‘something completely different’ category, I’ve started a lens on Squidoo. Mostly this is just another way to network with other gardeners, and I’m not entirely sure I’ll keep it but it was recommended to me by a fellow freelance writer, so why not? You can drop in and visit the lens if you’re feeling bored.


  1. War on goutweed...I think you will win! Is it just more vigorous in your area? I know Kris has it over at Blithwold but it doesn't seem to run amok! I have a bit of variegated and have never seen it revert...yet.

    Love the fog and the picture of your shrub roses is so romantic!

  2. We have heavy fog here in the fall and spring. So heavy you can't see your hand in front of your face and it lasts long enough that they have to cancel schools for the day, because it's not safe for the buses. It's SO flat here (one radio announcer called it Sunken Lunken), which greatly contributes to the fog hanging around so long.

    There's lots of goutweed here, as you said, around foundations of old homes. I actually didn't know what it was called, but when you gave the botanical name, I recognized that.

  3. Wow...goutweed certainly is persistent, isn't it? Besides showing an ugly area of your garden (thank you for that, btw :-) ) I don't doubt that this post will help gardeners who are fighting the same battle you are.

    As Layanee said, that photo of your roses is very romantic. Beautiful!

    Thanks for participating in "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." And, thanks for adding me to your blogroll...I'll be adding you to mine as well :-)

  4. Hi Jodi. Great to see you enjoy your fogs. We get them here in Busselton from time to time (especially this time of year) but obviously not as thick as you do. My kids get excited by walking through the 'clouds'.

    Great pics of your garden.

    I'm off to check out your Squidoo lens now.

  5. I do think you'll beat that ol' Goutweed. That's what I like to do, wear 'em out on all fronts. Nuke 'em, mow 'em, pull 'em till they get the idea they aren't welcome and go play in someone else's garden!

    But it did leave you with "uglies"!

    Carol at May Dreams Gardens

  6. that looks familiar! we moved to san francisco a few years ago and as we've moseyed around the bay, fog's been a constant companion. right now we're invading the foothills so i'm getting a completely different view of it as it comes over the hills around us. i wish i could hear the pronunciation on those newfoundlandisms!

    thanks for your kind words over at blackswamp girl's... it's wonderful to know someone's looking. especially someone whose writing i enjoy.

  7. What beautiful gardens in any weather! I kind of like the look of fog, but wouldn't want to have it all the time.

    I will be back soon, just found lots of lovely photos and interesting things to read, and now I have to go make supper!

  8. Welcome everyone to my funny farm...

    That's interesting that the goutweed doesn't run amok at your friend's place. And I hope your variegated never reverts. Ever.

    Kylee: What does goutweed go by where you live? Bishop's Weed? Snow on the mountain? Ground Elder (that seems to be mostly British.)

    Colleen: Of all the garden questions I get asked..."how do I get rid of goutweed" is the most common, hands down. I wish there was a surefire cure...

    Stuart, forgive my geographical ignorance, but where is Busselton? Fog is fine so long as you're not in a fishing boat with no radar, or if it doesn't last for days on end up here (it can be rude to roses that turn to little soggy balls of kleenex)

    Carol: Yup...I'm nothin' if not stubborn (tis the Scot in me) and this time I am going to wear down the goutweed til it goes away. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. :-)

    bs: Nice to have you drop in. You'd laugh at the pronunciation of my Newfoundese no doubt and these things slip into my conversations at odd times--like when I'm giving a talk!

    Sandy: Do you know Wild Flora's Blog? She's into native gardening and pollinators too. I've learned a lot from her--well, I learn from every gardener I talk to. That's the beauty of gardening.

  9. Hello Jodi,

    I'm glad you added the botanic name - years ago in IL the plant you're calling goutweed was given to me as 'Snow on the Mountain'. Sometimes that name refers to a kind of Euphorbia, but it's also a nickname for Aegopodium.

    Luckily it didn't get planted fast enough and croaked, so I never had to battle it - that aftermath does look ugly! Nice post.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  10. The roses are really nice! And the fog is really cool and kinda spooky.

  11. Planting goutweed in the garden! Willingly? What's wrong with people? The only place I would plant a plant like that is in a container.

    Did you know that it's edible? Especially the first tender leaves are reported to be delicious and tastes like spinach (no wonder - spinach is the chicken of the vegetable kingdom). Come to think of it, since I do all my gardening in containers, perhaps I should try it out...

    Great post!

  12. Tova in Ottawa23 April, 2008 02:08

    I, too, am battling goutweed (my second year in this house, second year of battle) and am trying an all-out assault this year (last years efforts were a little half-hearted, I guess). It's just coming up now and I've torched it with a large propane torch to weaken it (not a great idea where grass fires could be a problem). It pops up new shoots, which I hit with RoundUp , since it is most effective when they are growing vigorously. Then cover with many layers of newspaper, then thick black pastic sheeting, and lastly a layer of large patio stones. I was also sure to cover areas around the bed (at least 1 meter in all directions) and checking for new offfshoots past the extreme barrier daily, then a large dose of RoundUp right away.I'll lift the whole mess in a few weeks and hit anything left with RoundUp again (and again if needed). The combination of no light, little water, and harsh chemicals should finally cause it to give up the ghost (or at least I hope so).

  13. I'm in Nova Scotia, and on a mission to eradicate the goutweed that's taking over the yard at my new home ... although we've spent hours on digging out the flower bed at the side of the house, we're not near the end ... or the beginning of the end. It still feels like we're at the beginning of the beginning. This is going to be a fight.

    I'm going to take on the back half of the yard with a weed whacker tonight ... and blast the hell out of it with Roundup when it comes back.

    And, for the record, my first idea for handling it was "cover it with gas and set it on fire" ... but, sadly, we're not even allowed backyard bonfires in my neighbourhood.


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